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The White Rose Organ

Glass in the limelight

Munich, 10/31/2013

The instrument has long been silent – but the White Rose Organ has found its voice again, and on 9. November it will intone Philip Glass’ score for the film Koyaanisqatsi.


One can’t be too careful when exploring the innards of the White Rose Organ in the Atrium of the Main Building at LMU. It is ever so easy to overlook those fragile metal pipes ranged at knee-height immediately next to the little ladder – bending the knee at an inopportune moment would be enough to buckle one. And confined as I am in the narrow space between wooden bellows and ranks of organ pipes made of tin, lead and various types of wood, I have difficulty finding a usable camera angle. The low light levels are a further headache. The narrow wooden ledges that front the palisades of pipes must serve as camera stands, and I can’t rely on natural illumination, although the cold quality of the flash gives the photos a feeling of lifelessness that is at odds with my intention – to illustrate the reawakening of an organ that has been silent for many years.

To convey a clear and noble message
Former LMU Rector Joseph Pascher saw the instrument as a medium for the transmission of the spirit of the White Rose. However, not long after its inauguration in February 1961, the Organ fell into disuse, and was destined to remain silent for decades. As the years went by, gaskets deteriorated, leather became brittle and dust settled on and in the pipework. Then, last summer, on the initiative of Dr. Matthias Fahrmeir, Head of the Office of Facilities Management at LMU, the decision was taken to revive and refresh the tonal qualities of this exemplar of the Queen of Instruments. The White Rose Organ was dismantled, and restored by organ builder Markus Harder-Völkmann in Neubiberg. The refurbished instrument was subsequently reinstalled as part of the recently completed renovation of the Atrium.

On 9. November 2013, the 75th anniversary of the so-called Reichspogromnacht, the Organ’s wind system, essentially a large bellows mounted behind the organ, will be activated for the inaugural concert on the “new” instrument. The single work on the program is the soundtrack written for director Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi by the well-known Jewish-American composer Philip Glass.

The traditional and the modern
The work will be heard in an interpretation by the well-known Munich organist Stefan Moser. Moser acted as artistic consultant during the refurbishment of the original instrument, which was built by the Steinmeyer Company in Oettingen in 1960. He was also involved in the voicing phase that preceded the formal approval of the restored organ. Nevertheless, although he is quite familiar with the new instrument, he regards its concert premiere as “a musical research project”, he says. This is because the venture will involve the coupling of the instrument with a virtual organ, a computer-generated library of sampled organ sequences and a sound expander which allows him to exploit “exotic” colours and timbres, such as those of the female voice and the guitar. “The simultaneous use of three sound generators is something no one has attempted before,” he says. The White Rose Organ lends itself to such experiments, for, as the restorer states in his report on its overall character, it is not an instrument that can “effortlessly fill large spaces with sound” or offer “an overwhelming concert experience”. This apparent lack, however, makes it well suited for the kind of experiment planned for its “second debut”.

Moser will actually play on an electronic keyboard located in the Atrium, which transmits digital signals that actuate the flow of air through the appropriate pipework in the Organ itself. This is now possible because the renovation work has brought the instrument fully up to date, and equipped it with modern electronic sound generators and the necessary interfaces for remote control.

So on 9. November, Stefan Moser will sit at the keyboard directly below the screen on which Koyaanisqatsi will be projected during the concert. The film deals with humanity’s disastrous impact on the natural environment, which threatens to jeopardize the very survival of our species. Regrettably, the film has lost none of its topicality in the 30 years since it was first shown. – And that is reason enough to repeat its message, this time underlined by music from an instrument that evokes the memory of a group of people who valiantly struggled to create a better world.

There will be two performances of the concert "Kino für die Ohren" ("Movie with Music") on 9. November. The first begins at 16.00, the second at 19.30. Tickets for the concert are now available (Foyer: 10 Euro, Stairs: 4 Euro) from the Students' Union (Email: / Phone: +49 89-2180-2073), and will be on sale in the Atrium from 4. to 8. November (from 17.00 to 18.30 each day). They can also be purchased from all ticket agencies in Munich or at the box office shortly before each performance.

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